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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mid-Atlantic Ladderback Arm Chair (ca. 1780) Part 2

Well, I finished the restoration and repair of the ladderback arm chair I have been working on. It is always an enjoyable experience working on and spending time with a piece of furniture this old. I find my mind imagining the hands that created this piece as well as the many hands that it passed through. After all, isn't this why we are drawn to these things? Each piece is a direct link to another time and place, giving us a small glimpse of what life was like and how our ancestors thought about things. From the intention of the piece, to it's manufacture detail, to its subsequent use, all shed light on a piece of our collective history. Personally, Taking a chair apart like this and studying it to see what I can find out gives me a sense of communion with it's maker that gives the whole project a new purpose. We are fortunate to have these crafted pieces of art to admire in this day and age.

Once the joinery was reassembled on this chair, the next step was to clean the existing finish and build it back up. A previous owner had used linseed oil to "feed" the finish, resulting in a build up on the finish. This is usually a hard thing to remove, but it came off a little easier on this chair. After the surface was brought down to a consistent level, I applied new finish to the old in a process known as amalgamation. With a few coats of new finish, the chair developed a nice sheen, while still displaying the many signs of use. Below are a few photos of the chair, starting with the chair after my work was completed. The chair was then sent to the caner Chris Frear for a new rush seat. As always, Chris did a perfect job on the seat. The last few photos show the chair after it the seat was put on and ready for delivery.


Two small notes about the chair:

1) I do think that the chair was originally painted blue. My hunch is that the maker probably made the chair to be either finished clear or painted and that in this case it was painted. Not knowing the final finish on the chair during the manufacturing process, the maker probably decided to put the decorative scribe marks on the finials, in case it was finished clear. Because of the variation of the woods used and their different visual characteristics, chairs like these were often painted in the eighteenth century.  Evidence of white paint was also found showing that this chair went through several different looks. The places where the blue paint were found indicate that it was probably the original finish.

2) One thing I never discussed was the gap between the top slat and the second one down. Usually the slats are evenly spaced. This one has a greater gap between these two than the other slats. I have not seen another example like this and do not see an obvious reason for doing this, but I am positive it was done intentionally. Perhaps future research will shed some light on this.

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